“An increasing number of studies have found that improving the physical functioning of the brain improves the mind.”
What does the brain have to do with mental illness? Everything! Our brain imaging work—over 160,000 brain SPECT scans related to behavior—shows that mental health is related to the physical functioning of the brain. For example:
- Depression is associated with excessive activity in the brain’s emotional center, which is known as the limbic system. When this brain network is less active, there is generally a positive, hopeful state of mind. When it is overactive, negativity and sadness can take hold.
- Anxiety is linked to too much activity in the basal ganglia, a part of the brain that sets your emotional tone. When there is overactivity in this area, people are more likely to experience anxious thoughts, tension, heightened fear and increased awareness.
- ADHD is associated with low activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area involved in impulse control, forethought, and focus. When this area is underactive, people are more likely to be inattentive, disorganized, and impulsive.
Natural Ways to Enhance Brain Health to Reduce Symptoms
An increasing number of studies have found that improving the physical functioning of the brain improves the mind. But medication isn’t the only solution. In fact, lifestyle changes can have a powerful influence on the moment-by-moment functioning of your brain and can help minimize symptoms like depression, anxiety, inattention, and others.
1. Exercise: Research has shown that physical exercise has been found to improve mood, anxiety, and even cognitive health in patients with depression.
2. Feed your brain: Increasing evidence suggests that nutritional treatment may help prevent, treat, or improve anxiety, depression, and many other disorders.
3. Kill the ANTs: Automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) cause the brain to release chemicals that instantly make you feel bad, but by simply challenging or talking back to these thoughts, you can shut down or slow the production of these nasty chemicals so you can feel better fast.
4. Nutraceuticals: A growing body of evidence also supports the use of natural supplements for mental health, or rather brain health, issues. In my book, The End of Mental Illness, I share several science-backed nutraceuticals that have top-level evidence for common symptoms. For anxiety and stress, these include ashwagandha, theanine, and omega-3 fatty acids (EPA+DHA). Nutraceuticals that support mood include EPA omega-3 fatty acids, St. John’s wort, saffron, and SAMe. And rhodiola, ashwagandha, and ginseng support focus and attention.
Ultimately, to enhance brain health and manage or overcome symptoms, it’s important to seek out solutions that are the least toxic and most effective. You can find over 100 more strategies to boost brain health in The End of Mental Illness.
Order a copy of Dr. Amen’s book, The End of Mental Illness, here.